Hasty portraits

Published on Sunday March 18th, 2012

In the midst of another afternoon of work, laundry, nose-blowing, and tea-swigging, I noticed some pretty light in our bedroom. I threw on a skirt, bundled my scraggly hair into an arrangement that could sort of bear passing scrutiny from one angle, swept all the magazines off the top of the dog crate, prodded my husband out of bed, and thrust the camera at him. Because a gal’s got to take a chance to shoot a new sweater when she can. We didn’t even get to a pose that would show you the back before Mr. G had to croak his way through a business call and I had to pick up our daughter from school, so you won’t have seen the last of this cardigan, but for now… it’s something, anyway.

This is the Mitered Cardigan from Knit One Knit All, the new compilation of previously unpublished Elizabeth Zimmermann designs in garter stitch. The yarn is Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 in a grey that makes me think of gulls. It came accidentally to the knitting shop where I used to work and the owner let me have it at cost rather than paying to ship it back; it’s been resting in my stash ever since. It was lovely to knit and I’ve still got several skeins left to play with.

Like so many of the wild and wooly ideas born of EZ’s fertile brain, this cardigan is unique. One knits a long strip of garter stitch, turning corners according to the instructions, to construct a sort of cardigan frame. Then one fills in the torso and adds sleeves. It’s not for beginners, those who fear math, or those who shun gauge swatches. As experienced as a knitter as I am, and as careful as I thought my calculations were, my sweater wound up about two inches shorter than I’d expected because I didn’t take the time to make a swatch that really mirrored the construction of the sweater. If you want to make this yourself, I encourage you to first knit an actual mitered corner in garter stitch, pick up stitches along one interior edge of it, and then work stockinet back and forth, saddling those stitches to the vertical edge of the garter strip. Only by measuring the resulting compression of the garter stitch will you be able to get the fronts of your cardigan the length you want them. And it’s all or nothing with this sweater — there’s no way of employing your usual tricks to solve fit problems after the fact. You’ll pretty much have to rip the whole thing if you don’t get it right the first time, or at least be willing to chop it into pieces and graft them back together with fabric added or removed as necessary.

When I started knitting last summer, I had my own bright ideas about improving the fit that weren’t entirely well advised. I added too much waist shaping, for one. Well, I added my usual amount of waist shaping, but my gauge was tighter than what I’d swatched; the result was too snug a fit at the waist. And then I went and grew a pregnant tummy, so it will be six or seven more months before I’ll know whether I can actually button my cardigan all the way down. I also thought I’d get a little fancy with some extra fabric at the bust and then a pleat to gather it back in. The extra fabric was a good idea; I’m not crazy about the pleat, which isn’t really big enough to look like more than a pucker. I’ll do that differently next time. I love everything about the fit of the sleeves, though.

The sweater looks pretty much identical in all the pictures we took, so it wasn’t a very successful effort as a documentary of things knitted. (It also hasn’t been blocked. Oops. I promise the fabric will be smoother next time you see it.) But just after we staged this impromptu shoot, my friend Kristen began writing a series on the male gaze in knitwear photography, and from that perspective I find scrolling through our pictures rather intriguing. The post I’ve linked is about the spouse as photographer — apropos for me because hardly anyone else takes pictures of me. The top photograph is a view of myself I never see. But my husband must see it all the time as I’m concentrating on a set of complicated stitches, reading a book, working at the computer, interacting with our small child… I suspect I spend a great deal of my time gazing downward. Is my brow usually more furrowed? Do I look less tranquil? Very likely. The next snap is one I wouldn’t post unless I were thinking about what the camera captures, but it’s the girl I see in the mirror these days: two months of illness and two trimesters’ worth of weariness in the shadowed eyes, a weak smile that doesn’t reach beyond the lips. Her face isn’t even quite in focus, although the sweater is — truth inadvertently revealed by a fixed-length lens. This girl is spread thin and not living fully into herself. I’d like to see the back of her as soon as possible.

In the presence of a camera held my someone other than my husband, I imagine I’d have been artificially perky, more conscious of the self I was presenting, more eager to please the viewer.

This is the one I’d choose as the most flattering presentation of myself — letting the light make the best of my cheeks, my brow, my mouth, the downcast gaze hiding those ugly shadows and puffy lids and projecting poise and serenity too often absent in my life as a young mother. And then there’s this one, which is my favorite…

… because there’s more of me in it. It was taken before the two where I’m looking down but after the tighter, tireder shot. I’m about to say something tart to my husband, who’s just told me my belly looks distracting and I need to cover it with my hands and also put my shoulders back, which I’m going to do because he’s right even if he isn’t always tactful. The flare in my nostrils and the tightening of my lips and jaw rather spoil me as any sort of inviting picture of womanhood, but they’re true. And because my husband-photographer loves me in spite of my broad saucy streak, he gets to capture that.

And it’s probably not inappropriate to wear a saucy expression while modeling an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater… I like to imagine that great lady could answer back with the best of them when the occasion required. No one who wasn’t a little bit flippant could have turned the knitting world on its head as she did. Mitered Cardigan being an accurate but unpoetic name, I’m calling mine Heart Elizabeth. Because I do. In sickness and in health.

18 Comments to “Hasty portraits”

  1. Swapna Comment Says:

    I think you look beautiful in all of them. But the first one’s my favourite. What happiness to have a husband who sees you like that.

    The sweater is interesting and suits you. That lady was amazing.

  2. Natalie B Comment Says:

    What a wonderful vulnerability you share in your pictures and words. I always love readying your posts. Here’s wishing you some improved health and energy before the end of your pregnancy 🙂

  3. Ivana Comment Says:

    Great post! Really special.
    And fyi, I hadn’t noticed the shadows under your eyes until you mentioned them, so you look better than you think 😉 Have a great week!

  4. Holly Comment Says:

    You are way too critical of yourself, all the pictures are absolutely beautiful!

  5. Fleur Cotton Comment Says:

    What a beautiful post…..your cardigan is stunningly simple and elegant.

    Fleur xx

  6. frances Comment Says:

    These are all beautiful, beautiful photographs, although I like the top one best. Interesting to fit your reflections on the portraiture into a conversation that’s been circulating among women my generation (I have daughters around your age, and a granddaughter, 4). I’ve had two posts myself this last week about reflecting on my own face in the mirror and in photographs, the narcissism but also the profound revelations I also find there about self and life. From my perspective, I see not fatigue in these as much as woman-mother emerging from the girl . . . (Not that the woman wasn’t already there, nor that you’re losing your girl-self — I do believe they continue to coexist, and your youth and beauty are still notably present– it’s just that there’s a certain strength I see here that’s perhaps more striking because you’re tired. It’s the kind of gathering of strength that a mother has to do, you know?)

  7. kelly-ann (ravelry) Comment Says:

    Thank you for being so honest with your words and photos. There are many times when I look at myself in photos and feel like motherhood stole my perky eyes, glowing skin, and nicely combed hair. At this point, the 6 and 9 year old allow me to get a full night of sleep, but it is hard to catch up on the previous 10 years!

    I think you look beautiful in all of those photos and I am 100% sure that your kids will look at them one day and agree 🙂

  8. Catherine Comment Says:

    These are stunning portraits! Truly. And a beautiful sweater.

  9. Allison Comment Says:

    Thank you for showing off these pictures–this is the first I’ve heard of the newly released EZ designs! Best wishes for happier, healthier months ahead.

  10. Lisa Comment Says:

    You look absolutely lovely in all the pictures, and I am always happy to see your face 🙂 I miss you! Love the sweater and hope that the remaining months of your pregnancy are peaceful!

  11. Laura Comment Says:

    Beautiful! And thanks for pointing in the direction of Knitting Kninja. Very interesting, and new to me.

  12. Seanna Lea Comment Says:

    All of those photos are flattering. Your tiredness doesn’t really show with the downsampling for the internet. I hope you are not sick soon.

  13. Prairiepoet Comment Says:

    Beautiful photos of beautiful you! I love your reflections about the photo shoot. You look like a beautiful strong young mother. The sweater is stunning and looks just right on you. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. Best of luck with that new little one.

  14. Barbara Comment Says:

    Beautiful sweater and am looking forward to more detailed construction photos later. My first and lasting thought of the portraits is that they so remind me of the classic Johannes Vermeer paintings – such beautiful lighting and posing-Woman in Gray.

  15. Siga Comment Says:

    I think you look great in these pictures. And a very interesting post. I had it open in my browser for all of the week and kept rereading it.

  16. Rose Comment Says:

    I love the sweater and look RADIANT!

  17. lizzie Comment Says:

    You look lovely – and so does the sweater. Must try and knit something that fits properly !

  18. Alex Comment Says:

    What a beautiful posting, Sarah.
    I can see everything you’ve described regarding the photos, if I look for it. What is very apparent to me is this really beautiful you!